She didn’t have an advanced science degree, but Mary Poppins was onto something: According to new studies, a spoonful of sugar not only helps the medicine go down; it could actually help eradicate persistent bacterial infections. Certain types of bacteria have adapted to antibiotic treatment by “playing dead,” but according to researchers, it’s possible to “wake them up” with sugar in order to effectively treat them. The good news? A little sugar-coating seems to go a long way in helping eradicate things like urinary tract infections, staph bacteria, and even E.coli. The bad news? This doesn’t mean you can count cookies as medicine; only certain types of sugar are effective, and they’re administered as part of the antibiotic treatment.
Discover reported that researchers tested the sweetened antibiotics on E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus — two common types of bacteria associated with UTIs, intestinal, and staph infections — with promising results:
The researchers combined gentamicin with different kinds of sugars, including mannitol, fructose and glucose. (Sucrose, the stuff you put in your coffee, is just one of many types of sugars as far as biochemistry’s concerned.) When the scientists added these sweetened antibiotics to bacteria grown in Petri dishes, it killed over 99% of the bacterial persisters. The type of sugar seemed to make a difference, as well; only fructose helped the drug kill S. aureus, for instance.
This kind of antibiotic-resistance isn’t what causes bugs like MRSA (which has actually mutated to resist treatment), but it’s still responsible for many cases of recurring infection and illness.
Unfortunately, the new research still doesn’t give you a healthy excuse to sate your sugar cravings, but we’re all for drug developments that mean fewer rounds of antibiotic treatment.